Photographing Princes

I met Nicole Nodland recently in the Virgin Lounge to discuss her part in the Worldwide Prince Photography Exhibition I am co-ordinating. Our close encounter provided an opportunity to discuss the art of a master photographer. Nicole has photographed a veritable treasure trove of artists including Pussy Riot, Mark Ronson, George Clinton, Anna Friel, Downton Abbey, Ed Sheeran etc. etc.

Nicole captured the heart and soul of Prince - click to view her galleries of music artist photographs

Nicole captured the heart and soul of Prince – click to view her galleries of music artist photographs

The manner of her meeting Prince was a great story of serendipity and a degree of drive on her part … Nicole had travelled to Europe and returned to LA to very little.  She moved back to Minneapolis with her mum for a bit.  Having done some photography for Warner Bros, someone suggested she get in touch with Prince.  Was this feasible?  Anyway, she did.  Some time later, one evening at 11 pm the phone rang and she was asked to go to Paisley Park.  What day? she thought.  The answer came “tonight”.  So she got ready and went.  Finding Prince in the complex was a problem but eventually a purple voice asked “Do you have polaroid?”  This was the start of her photography work with Prince lasting several years.

Do take a look at Nicole’s portfolio which spans video as well as still photography.  Here’s a few teaser pictures from her website.  Click the pictures to view the real thing. We are planning an event to cover Nicole’s work across the full range of her portfolio at Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Money Lounge in due course – watch this space.

La Roux, Mark Ronson and Sinead O'Connor

La Roux, Mark Ronson and Sinead O’Connor

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of 7 1/2 books on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity. Read more on Amazon.

Zane, Zane, Zane – Ouvrez Le Chein

It is one year since David Bowie left planet earth and it is indeed blue in the cold of January.  Here are some links that mark Bowie’s extraordinary life:

My Eulogy to Bowie

The BBC documentary – The Last Five Years

Rolling Stone’s obituary

Blackstar

The London Boys by my friends Raf and O

CNN interview

Tony Visconti talks about the making of Heroes

 

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of 7 1/2 books on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity. Read more about David Bowie on Amazon.

TMOB NEW EDITION COVER

Click on the picture to check the book out

Listen Without Prejudice – George Michael R.I.P.

I confess I had eschewed white soul music in the early 1980’s, due to being young and too focused on guitars and experimental synthesiser music. I therefore missed the arrival of Wham on the music scene. Sure, I was aware of their music, but carelessly dismissed it as bubblegum pop. Even their studio engineer Chris Porter initially saw Wham as just a teen band. It took a six-week business trip to Jakarta in 1983 and a long weekend in Bali to begin to understand the genius of George Michael. Sitting in a bar in Kuta drinking Emu lager and listening to “Wham Rap”, “Ray of Sunshine” and “Club Tropicana” on almost continual repeat in the bars was enough to hook me. Enough has already been written in the British Tabloid press about the sensational aspects of George Michael’s life and, to be frank, none of it interests me. The real point of an artist’s life is their artistry and it is to this that I am turning in this article.

My first surprise was George Michael’s personal transformation from disco diva to a world acclaimed soul and ballad singer, something which I should have spotted through my close encounter with Wham in Bali but which I somehow missed when his voice was bubble-wrapped in plastic pop music. I first paid attention to Michael’s voice when he produced “A Different Corner”, the beginning of a shift that would take several years to ferment and which was finally consolidated in 1990 when he released “Listen Without Prejudice”, an album whose title seemed for me to cut the ties with pure pop music and which elevated him to an international superstar. Michael refused to have his picture on the album in a principled decision to present the music and not the man.

What is also quite surprising about George Michael is just how his career was built on relatively few music releases.  After the fast and furious output of Wham, Michael only released 5 studio albums in 30 years, even less than that of the perfectionist Kate Bush. This is in contrast with David Bowie, with 27 albums over an extended period and in extreme contrast with Prince, with 39 studio albums and, reputedly with a vault of unreleased material that could last a generation. Notwithstanding court battles with record companies, it seems that George Michael would spend years working on an album until he was satisfied with it.

George Michael offered us object lessons in authenticity and ethics in his work to help educate the world about HIV / AIDS and his humanitarian work in general. A hallmark of great leaders is their ability to retain a sense of who they are by “touching the ground” from time to time. George Michael did this many times, through his private philanthropy, much of which remained a secret until his passing. I was passionately interested in HIV / AIDS through my work as a pharmaceutical scientist in bringing the first treatment to market in record time. Had we known more about this terrible condition earlier, we might still have had Freddie Mercury here today. Aside from his humanitarian work, George Michael was one of the few singers able to step into Mercury’s shoes vocally and in terms of his performance at Freddie’s tribute concert, as is evident in this performance:

The wider music world also recognised Michael’s vocal talents, having performed with Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Ray Charles, Beyonce, Paul McCartney, Whitney Houston and many more. Frank Sinatra even wrote him a letter advising him not to waste his talent.

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At a personal level, the Wham T-Shirt “Choose Life” made as big an impact upon me as any MBA course and eventually informed my decision to leave a very well-paid job and start my own business some 23 years ago. For that phrase alone, I shall be eternally grateful to George Michael.

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At a global level 2016 unleashed so many disruptive forces in the world and George’s words express my hopes for 2017 better than anyone else:

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate

Hanging on to hope

When there is no hope to speak of

And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late

Well maybe we should all be praying for time

George Michael 1963-2016 – You have been loved

New Year’s Reflections – Princes, Princesses and Starmen

Part I – 2016 Reflections

I hate the passage of time, as I believe that every moment should count, but I’m willing to make an exception in the case of 2016, which took so many beautiful and creative talents from us. As if it could not get any worse, we lost George Michael on Christmas day (My wife and I were reflecting that I gave my son George Michael as middle names today). This followed the tragic losses of Prince, Bowie, Carrie Fisher and so many more people during the year. 2016 has been such a crap year in so many ways. I recorded my thoughts about 2016 overall in an Advent Blog for Kate Griffiths-Lambeth, so there is no need to repeat them here. Suffice to say, I have been blessed to interview Prince family members such as Ida Nielsen, Marcus Anderson, Sheila E and George Clinton in 2016 and before. In 2017 I am planning a Worldwide Prince Photographic Exhibition with Maverick Productions, currently touring The Rolling Stones “Exhibitionism” as another tribute to the genius of Prince.

Ida

Prince with Ida Nielsen – Musical Genius x 2

But all things must pass and I’m marking the end of 2016 by giving a LIVE performance of Purple Rain at Battersea Arts Centre from 12 midnight – 2 am, after a two hour Vinyl Prince DJ set – the story of how this came about is a great example of the power of networking. I met DJ Nick, driving a van on a busy street in the City of London. Nick called out to me from then van, recognising my Prince Symbol T-Shirt. After a brief exchange, I left a card and ran, since I was in danger of being run over by angry drivers as I stood in the middle of the road!! To my surprise, Nick e-mailed me to explain his evening job as a DJ and now we are collaborating on this venture. I’m hopeful it may lead to other things in my day job at The Academy of Rock delivering events around the world.

Prince on improvisation

Our Tribute Song 4 Prince may be found at http://www.academy-of-rock.bandcamp.com/

Battersea Arts Centre - Orpheus

Battersea Arts Centre – Orpheus

Battersea Arts Centre is also a fascinating venue. Partly destroyed by fire in 2015, the centre showcases some of the most amazing creative talents. It’s very much in the mould of my work on improvisation, by operating a “scratch” methodology as part of its “ladder of development” for new work. Performances are shown at various stages of development to an outside audience, whose input and criticism guides the further evolution of the work. Scratch has been adopted as far afield as Sydney and New York and Battersea Arts Centre has successfully sparked new approaches to creativity across the globe.

Paper Cinema's Odyssey at Battersea Arts Centre

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey at Battersea Arts Centre

What then does 2017 hold in store for us? I’m going to leave that part of this blog until Part II. For now, here’s the end piece of a performance I did in Italy to honour Prince, at an impromptu aftershow for 300 people after a keynote on improvisation in business. Admittedly, nothing compares with the real thing but I did my best …

Part II – Towards 2017

I have two global hopes for 2017 – Firstly, that our obsession with war will diminish. Aleppo stands as yet another monument to humanity’s inhumanity. Secondly that we will turn back from “mob rule” as characterised by the election of Donald Trump and our own Government’s Brexit. A sub-goal for me in terms of contribution to society is the SIX B’s :

“Break Brexit Before Brexit Breaks Britain”

In business terms, my plans for 2017 include:

  1. A new book for Routledge, focusing on how we will respond to a society where intelligence are the main ingredients of personal and business success.  Read more about it at Brain Based Enterprises.
  2. I’m hoping to deliver consultancy assignments in Greece, Italy, the USA and make a return to Mauritius.
  3. And the Prince Photography Exhibition will be a major legacy project, to honour his memory. One of the images from the current Exhibitionism project is shown below:
Get off of my cloud - not a reference to computing storage ...

Get off of my cloud – not a reference to computing storage …

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Peter Cook leads Human Dynamics and The Academy of Rock. Author of 7 1/2 books on Leadership, Innovation and Creativity. Find his current books on Amazon which include cameo articles and insights from Prince and other music giants.

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Dublin Cowboy

Following the success of his two recent crowd-funded albums, 2014’s Flowers & Dirt and 2015’s Blackheart, former Gillan and Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Bernie Tormé has announced plans for a new album. ‘Dublin Cowboy’ will be a triple album comprising a studio CD, an acoustic CD and a live CD. The album is scheduled for release in March 2017 and, again, fans are being asked to support the production and release of the album via a crowdfunding appeal.

“I’m so psyched to be doing my third crowd-funded album on Pledgemusic, and in celebration of number three it’s also a triple album. Triple offender! Titled ‘Dublin Cowboy’ – because that’s what I am, its going to be a studio album, acoustic album, and a live album altogether in a dinky little slip-box. It’s a totally new experience for me, and that’s the best thing about it! It’ll be released in March 2017, and we’ll be rocking it live throughout the UK in April 2017.”

Jamming with da man - at the Hilton Hotel

Jamming with ‘da man – at the Hilton Hotel – To be sure, to be sure

The success of his two recent solo albums heralded the start of a real career renaissance for Bernie Tormé. He even claimed that I was part of it when all I did was buy the beer!! Seriously I’m also seriously geeked to have played a small part in Bernie’s renaissance alongside Arthur Brown, Ginger Wildheart et al. I’ve also performed on stage twice with Bernie and the band at London’s Borderline which is a kind of baptism by fire …

Bernie Torme Quote

Both albums were assisted by highly successful crowdfunding campaigns that helped reconnect Bernie with long-standing fans as well as bringing new ones. ‘Dublin Cowboy’ continues that renaissance.

Full details of Bernie’s Pledgemusic appeal can be found at Dublin Cowboy. Here’s some highlights:

  • £25 buys you a copy of the ‘Dublin Cowboy’ triple CD (and the first 100 physical CD orders will also get a free Bernie Tormé ‘Stratocaster Gypsy’ DVD
  • £36 buys you a signed copy of ‘Dublin Cowboy’ (together with a free DVD for the first 100 physical CD orders)
  • £200 buys you a Guitar Masterclass with Bernie
  • £350 buys you a day’s recording at Barnroom Studios in Kent with Bernie producing
  • £500 buys you Bernie’s vintage pirate coat, as worn on stage by Bernie during the Gillan era
"Pirates of Temple Bar" - Bernie's "piratic coat of many colours" - SOLD

“Pirates of Temple Bar” – Bernie’s “piratic coat of many colours” – SOLD

To tie in with the release of the album a new 2017 UK Tour has also been announced:

1st April SOUTH SHIELDS The Unionist Club

2nd April GLASGOW Nice n Sleazy

3rd April EDINBURGH Bannermans

4th April GRIMSBY Yardbirds

5th April MANCHESTER FAC25

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6th April WOLVERHAMPTON The Robin

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7th April LONDON The Borderline

8th April BRIGHTON The Prince Albert

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock, blending business with music. Read his book “The Music of Business” which includes an interview with Bernie Tormé.

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Beauty and the Bass

Ida Nielsen spent 5 years as the bass anchor for Prince. She is now stepping out in her own right as a singer – songwriter, following Prince’s tragic and premature death. In our exclusive interview and subsequent private conversations with Ida I discussed a number of topics with parallel lessons for anyone seeking to make their mark with their personal passion. Film production by Rory Gill roryjrgill@hotmail.co.uk:

Balancing discipline and freedom

Ida is a perfect example of a professional musician who combines discipline with freedom in her musical life. She took up music at the age of 16, having learned to play piano and bass mostly by ear. She then attended the Royal Danish Academy of Music to hone her natural born musical skills. When amateur musicians tell me that improvisation is all about creativity and freedom and nothing to do with discipline, I believe they have missed the point about the importance of structure / discipline / order. I’ve observed on many occasions musicians who have oodles of disciplined musical training, but who are unable to improvise and sometimes vice versa. Ida is a living example of someone who combines both sets of skills. Prince puts it simply:

“Too much freedom can lead to the soul’s decay”

In the business world this is what Tom Peters refers to as “simultaneous tight and loose properties”. I’ve just been discussing direct parallels from music for people interested in bringing more creativity and innovation to their enterprise at Innovation Mauritius

Beauty and the Bass - Interviewing Ida Nielsen in Camden, London

Beauty and the Bass – Interviewing Ida Nielsen in Camden, London

Deliberate practice

Ida is also testimony to the concept of “deliberate practice” proposed by K. Anders Ericsson. This requires the systematic desire to extend one’s repertoire beyond one’s comfort zone. In my experience, some musicians reach a plateau of competence, due to rerehearsing that which they already know. To master an instrument requires practice outside of the known regions of your competence. I know from my own experience that I had to switch from playing rock music to gypsy jazz in order to move my playing skill up a level through seeing and hearing things anew. This concept applies in many fields of human endeavour. Ida has respected great innovators in her field and built upon their innovations, for example Larry Graham, who is credited with the invention of “slap bass playing”, in his case due to not having a drummer in his band so he had to develop a more rhythmic way of playing the instrument. 

Here’s a section of Mr Graham with Sly and The Family Stone and a bass solo from my good friend Mr Paul Moss at a corporate aftershow event we did at Henley Business School from 2 minutes 08 onwards:

Get into the Groove – Working with Flow 

Mastery, unconscious competence, effortless genius, being “in your element” …  These are all ways to describe what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called the state of ‘flow’.  Prince’s sax player Marcus Anderson offers some practical insights into the state of flow:

“Although I can read music and therefore understand the “mathematics” of jazz, the real skill of improvisation comes from using your ear / intuition, paying attention to the other band members, feeding off them and finding a flow that moves the group performance up to the max.”

Marcus Anderson, interview taken from “Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise“, Bloomsbury

Ida is clearly in the state of effortless mastery or flow with this performance, recorded at Pizza Express Jazz Club in Soho, London at an aftershow at 3 am in the morning:

We spoke outside of the main interview about Ida’s 5 years spent working with Prince and she had these things to say about what she gained from working alongside a master of innovation in music:

Serendipity :

Ida explained how she got to play bass with Prince: 

“I simply got a call on my cell phone. The person said they were Prince’s manager and they wanted me to go to Minneapolis and jam with Prince and the band. They said they would call me back – they did not and I began to think it was a hoax, but eventually they called back and I went to Paisley Park to play with them for three days”. 

I completely got the mixed emotions of Ida’s story, having once had an e-mail from Sir Richard Branson telling me I had won a prize, then nothing for two weeks – a social media “expert” mailed me to say it was bound to be a hoax, completely bursting my bubble!  It turned out it was not a hoax mail and I ended up writing and delivering events for the Virgin group.

richard-branson-invite-linkedin

Mastery : When performing with Prince, Ida had to learn more than 300 songs in order to have the flexibility to vary a given performance, sometimes on the fly. This is quite different than performing with most professional musicians, who prefer to hone a set and perform this as a set piece on all dates of a tour. This level of agility gave Prince and 3rd Eye Girl the ability to personalise their music to a given audience. To do this requires mastery at the individual and team level, with everyone paying close attention to each other’s performances.

“Doing a residency in any particular city requires a large repertoire to ensure repeat business”.

Prince

Teaching as the best way to learn : Ida mused that she had been lucky to have the greatest guitar teacher on the planet in Prince. Moreover, rather than the usual situation in terms of paying your teacher for lessons, Prince had actually paid her !! The greatest gift of innovation is to transfer your skills to others to improve your game.

Check out Ida Nielsen’s music at her website for more insights into the skills of a master craftswoman.

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock and Human Dynamics. Check book “The Music of Business” out, which has a chapter on Prince and 3rd Eye Girl.

Charlie Mingus AOR

Engineering Bohemian Rhapsody

Here is our 1:1 interview with Barry Ainsworth, the man who engineered Bohemian Rhapsody as well as records for people as diverse as Otis Redding, Dusty Springfield, The Kinks, Rush, Deep Purple, Toyah, Yes, Jack Bruce, Hawkwind, Sooty !! and a very long list of music acts from the 1960’s and 70’s. Filmed and produced by Rory Gill, freelance film maker. Barry and I are available to give talks on aspects of working with precocious talents and extracting their genius with transferrable lessons for businesses who are interested in innovation and creativity.

Some of the artists Barry has produced

Just some of the artists Barry has produced … from Otis Redding “Dock of the Bay” to Deep Purple, Nancy Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Petula Clark etc.

To whet your appetite, in this film you will learn about:

  • Working in Liverpool’s Cavern – birthplace of The Beatles
  • Working with Frank and Nancy Sinatra
  • Dealing with Monsters of Rock – Deep Purple, Cream
  • Working with incendiary people – Lemmy, Punk Rock
  • Innovation in music recording and production
  • Working with Queen and dealing with perfectionists

So, please view the film, comment and share it widely.

Barry Ainsworth and Rory Gill at The Virgin Lounge

Barry Ainsworth and Rory Gill at The Virgin Money Lounge in London

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Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock and Human Dynamics. Check his books out on Amazon:

Click to view books on Amazon

Click to view books on Amazon

If you enjoyed this article, try some of our other work:

On Creativity and Playfulness

Prince and Innovation

Leading Innovation, Creativity and Enterprise

Hendrix and Clapton compared – Innovation style